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Honduras - Politics Background

Following the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua in 1979 and general instability in El Salvador at the time, Hondurans elected a constituent assembly in 1980 and voted in general elections in 1981. A new constitution was approved in 1982, and the Liberal Party government of President Roberto Suazo Cordoba took office. Suazo relied on U.S. support during a severe economic recession, including ambitious social and economic development projects sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Honduras became host to the largest Peace Corps mission in the world, and nongovernmental and international voluntary agencies proliferated.

As the 1985 election approached, the Liberal Party interpreted election law as permitting multiple presidential candidates from one party. The Liberal Party claimed victory when its presidential candidates, who received 42% of the vote, collectively outpolled the National Party candidate, Rafael Leonardo Callejas. Jose Azcona Hoyo, the candidate receiving the most votes among the Liberals, assumed the presidency in 1986. With the endorsement of the Honduran military, the Azcona administration ushered in the first peaceful transfer of power between civilian presidents in more than 30 years.

Nationalist Rafael Callejas won the following presidential election, taking office in 1990. The nation's fiscal deficit ballooned during Callejas' last year in office. Growing public dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living and with widespread government corruption led voters in 1993 to elect Liberal Party candidate Carlos Roberto Reina with 56% of the vote. President Reina, elected on a platform calling for a "moral revolution," actively prosecuted corruption and pursued those responsible for human rights abuses in the 1980s. He created a modern attorney general's office and an investigative police force, increased civilian control over the armed forces, transferred the police from military to civilian authority, and restored national fiscal health.

Liberal Carlos Roberto Flores Facusse took office in 1998. Flores inaugurated programs of reform and modernization of the Honduran government and economy, with emphasis on helping Honduras' poorest citizens while maintaining the country's fiscal health and improving international competitiveness. In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, leaving more than 5,000 people dead and 1.5 million displaced. Damages totaled nearly $3 billion.

Ricardo Maduro Joest of the National Party won the 2001 presidential elections, and was inaugurated in 2002. Maduro's first act as President was to deploy a joint police-military force to the streets to permit wider neighborhood patrols in the ongoing fight against the country's massive crime and gang problem. Maduro was a strong supporter of U.S. counterterrorism efforts and joined the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq with an 11-month contribution of 370 troops. Under President Maduro's guidance, Honduras also negotiated and ratified the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), received debt relief, became the first Latin American country to sign a Millennium Challenge Account Compact with the U.S., and actively promoted greater Central American integration. While the Maduro administration implemented a number of successful economic and security policies, reliable polling data revealed widespread popular rejection of Honduran institutions, underscoring the lack of public faith in the political class, the media, and the business community.

2005 - Jose Manuel "Mel" Zelaya Rosales

Jose Manuel "Mel" Zelaya Rosales of the Liberal Party won the November 27, 2005, presidential elections with less than a 4% margin of victory, the smallest margin ever in Honduran electoral history. Zelaya's campaign theme was "citizen power," and he vowed to increase transparency and combat narcotrafficking, while maintaining macroeconomic stability. The Liberal Party won 62 of the 128 congressional seats, just short of an absolute majority.

President Manuel Zelaya gradually shifted somewhat to the left while in office. In his address to the UN General Assembly on 18 September 20016, President Jose Manuel "Mel" Zelaya employed religious and traditional leftist Latin American rhetoric in what appeared, in the Honduran context, to be an implicit condemnation of U.S. foreign policies promoting democracy and free commerce. The previous week Zelaya warmed up for the UNGA by lauding Bolivia's Evo Morales, suggesting that the economic policies of Argentina's Nestor Kirchner's are an example to be studied, and blasting the "Washington Consensus" as a failure. In a 9/22 press conference, however, the President insisted that his criticisms were not aimed at anyone in particular, but rather at all those who violate free commerce, using the European Union's raising of its banana tariff as an example. Zelaya has a habit of tailoring his remarks to what he thinks his specific audience wants to hear, and shows no/no hesitation in contradicting himself.

Zelaya’s presidency was marked by a series of controversies as his policies and rhetoric moved closer in line with that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Zelaya signed on to Chavez’ Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) in August 2008, and the treaty was ratified by the National Congress in October 2008. Zelaya’s great offense, for which he had incurred the wrath of the Honduran right wing and its devoted support group in the United States, had been to allow the Central American country to drift slightly to the left—i.e. away from its established position as the “U.S.S. Honduras,” as it was endearingly called during the Cold War. Among his many treasonous acts, Zelaya raised the urban and rural monthly minimum wages to $290 and $213, respectively, and demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to ask communities affected by pernicious foreign corporate mining practices how they felt about the arrangement.

In the final year of Zelaya’s term, he began advocating that a referendum be added to the November 2009 elections regarding reform of the constitution. Zelaya proposed that an informal poll be held on June 28 to gauge public support for his proposal. However, Honduran courts ruled that Zelaya’s plans were unconstitutional and directed that government agencies desist from providing support to carry out the poll. Zelaya ignored the rulings.

Army soldiers entered Zelaya’s residence in the early hours of June 28, 2009, the day of the poll, forcibly seized the pajama-clad Zelaya and transported him to Costa Rica. The National Congress met in an emergency session that same day, declared Zelaya was no longer president, and swore in President of Congress Roberto Micheletti as the new President of the Republic. Contrary to what wes being parlayed by coup defenders/apologists in Washington and in the international media, the vote in Congress June 28 to accept Zelaya's "resignation" and install Micheletti as president was not unanimous. In fact, there was no recorded vote, or even a request for "yeas" and "nays." Some media are acknowledging that the five deputies from the leftist Democratic Unification Party, who boycotted the proceeding, did not vote for the transition of power and concluding the vote was therefore 123-5. However, many deputies were not present, and some who were present were opposed to what was happening but were silenced. Several Liberal Party members, including some holding leadership positions, described intimidation and irregularities in the June 28 proceedings, some alleging there was no quorum present, which would invalidate the actions taken.

Micheletti replaced all the cabinet members who did not accept Zelaya’s ouster. As reflected in resolutions by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations General Assembly, and later in the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the events of June 28 constituted a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government.

Reinforced by the media and several political watchdog organizations, concerted efforts to protect human rights and civil liberties continued up to the June 28, 2009, coup. In the immediate aftermath of Zelaya’s expulsion from Honduras, the de facto Micheletti regime used troops to shut down dissenting media outlets and imposed curfews to prevent anti-coup protestors from forming large groups to voice their opposition. Coup-perpetrators accused ousted President of Manuel Zelaya of attempting to manipulate the constitution seek another term in office — an impossible feat since he was barred from being on the ballot — by holding a non-binding poll in November 2009 on whether to call a referendum on rewriting the Honduran constitution.

The US Embassy perspective was that there was no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the constitution. There was equally no doubt from the US Embassy perspective that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was illegitimate. Nevertheless, it was also evident that the constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by the President and resolving conflicts between the branches of government.

Hillary Clinton revealed in the hardcover version of her memoir "Hard Choices" that she schemed to ensure Zelaya’s ouster by pushing forward with elections to “render the question of Zelaya moot.” A key passage from the hardcover edition of Clinton’s autobiography had been struck from the paperback version. In the original, she outlined her contributions to Honduran politics in the aftermath of the June 28, 2009, coup against that country’s president at the time, Manuel Zelaya. In her capacity as secretary of state under Barack Obama, Clinton relates, she and various colleagues in the region jointly “strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras (following Zelaya’s ouster) and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot and give the Honduran people a chance to choose their own future.”

Coup-perpetrators accused Zelaya of trying to strong-arm his way into another term in office, and the Supreme Court and Congress conspired to remove him. His rivals’ justification for the coup was Zelaya’s plan to hold a non-binding poll on whether or not the schedule a referendum on the question of convening a national constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduran Constitution. Even if the non-binding poll went through, Zelaya couldn’t possibly be on the ballot to seek another term in the November 2009 elections.

A large majority of Hondurans did not support the political plans of former President Zelaya, but also did not support the manner in which he was removed from office. Most Hondurans are satisfied with the outcome of the crisis. Ideology is the most significant factor in determining attitudes toward the political crisis. Hondurans who classify themselves as on the “right” in the ideological spectrum are more supportive of the removal of Zelaya, and less supportive of the political plans the former president was pursuing.

Zelaya’s forced removal was universally condemned by the international community, and the OAS issued an immediate and unanimous call for Zelaya’s unconditional return to office. With support from the United States, the OAS designated Nobel Peace Prize laureate and then-Costa Rican President Oscar Arias as mediator to reach a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of the crisis. Through the Arias-led negotiations, the San Jose Accord, a 12-point plan for restoration of constitutional order, was drafted. The plan called for restoration of Zelaya as president, but with a consensus-based “unity government;” establishment of a truth commission and a verification commission under the auspices of the OAS; amnesty for political crimes committed by all sides related to the coup; and early elections to establish a successor as rapidly as possible. In early October 2009, negotiations were moved to Tegucigalpa and renamed the Guaymuras process. On October 30, 2009, President Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti signed the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. However, President Zelaya broke off his participation in the process of implementing the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord after Micheletti announced on November 6, 2009, that he would form a new cabinet without Zelaya.

Zelaya returned to Honduras on May 28, 2011, paving the way for the country’s return to participation in the OAS on June 1, 2011. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report on July 7, 2011.

2009 - Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo

The de facto regime issued a decree on September 27, 2009, suspending most civil liberties and invoking a state of emergency. The de facto regime also issued an executive order giving the executive the right to close any media service it deemed a threat to national security or public order, without a court order.

On October 19, 2009, the de facto regime published a decree abrogating its earlier suspension of civil liberties. The human rights situation significantly deteriorated during the de facto regime’s control, with widespread reports of beatings by security forces and other abuses. In addition, the regime’s movement of security forces into the large cities, in order to maintain its rule, resulted in a significant increase in crime and drug trafficking as traditional security force activities were curtailed. On November 29, 2009, Hondurans elected Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo as President in a previously scheduled free and fair election that attracted broad voter participation. Lobo received the largest number of votes for a presidential candidate in Honduran history. President Lobo was sworn in on January 27, 2010. After assuming office, Lobo formed a government of national unity and convened a truth commission, as set forth in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Since his inauguration, President Lobo has taken important steps indicating his government’s commitment to human rights, including the establishment of a Secretariat of State of Justice and Human Rights. Nevertheless, allegations of violence against and intimidation of opposition activists; journalists; and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community continue to raise concerns regarding human rights conditions.

The coup was accompanied by a huge rise in political violence. By 2010, Honduras had the highest per capita homicide rate in the world outside of active war zones, and it retained the top spot for three years. By 2012, state security forces had assassinated more than 300 people, and 34 members of the opposition and 13 journalists had disappeared, according to data compiled by Honduran human rights organizations.

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Page last modified: 27-11-2021 17:40:21 ZULU